As Formula One arrives in Germany for the ninth round of the 2013 season, there’s only one issue that takes centre-stage as the sport’s main talking point – tyres.
The incidents that overshadowed the race at Silverstone just five days ago are still fresh in the memory, with no less than five blowouts affecting the drivers throughout the British Grand Prix, raising serious issues about safety.
In an attempt to prevent a repeat of last week’s shenanigans, Pirelli has brought a new, kevlar-belted rear tyre to this race instead of the steel-belted rubber that caused so much trouble at Silverstone, but it’s an issue that is set to rumble on throughout the weekend, with the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association threatening to boycott the event if tyres continue to fail throughout practice and qualifying.
The new tyres could also have the effect of shaking up the pecking order. While Pirelli has said that the actual compounds haven’t changed, many teams feel that it could allow those who have struggled so far this season to come to the fore, and vice versa, with Nico Rosberg saying that ‘the title fight will be altered’. However, what impact the new tyres will have on the field remains to be seen.
The Nurburgring is a circuit with a mix of fast and slow corners, not too dissimilar to that of Barcelona or Shanghai, so it’s a venue that should suit the Mercedes and Red Bulls. It should also allow Ferrari to perform well, but after its poor showing at Silverstone last weekend, a track that should also have suited the F138, it’s too early to predict just how competitive they will be this weekend. Lotus also cannot be discounted, the E21 runs well in hot weather, and with temperatures in the mid-20s forecast for raceday, this could be a chance for the Enstone team to rediscover its early season form.
Nico Rosberg will be confident of tasting success this weekend. The Mercedes driver celebrates his second home Grand Prix this weekend, having won on the streets of Monaco, the principality he grew up in. Having also taken the chequered flag at his team’s home race at Silverstone last time out, there are plenty of good omens knocking about for him at this moment in time.
Out to stop him will be fellow German Sebastian Vettel. The championship leader broke down with just 11 laps remaining at Silverstone, gifting victory to Rosberg, and will be desperate to bounce back with a first career win on home soil. To do so, however, he will need to break his ‘July jinx’ and take his maiden Grand Prix victory in the year’s seventh month.
Standing in the way of the two Germans will be their respective teammates. Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber have taken the last two victories at this circuit, and with punctures and a poor start costing the pair a realistic shot at winning in Silverstone, they will be itching to put the record straight on Sunday.
And what of Fernando Alonso? The Spaniard has a fantastic record in Germany, winning five times there over the course of his career, and after a strong drive to the podium last week reduced his points deficit to Vettel to just 21, if Ferrari give him the car to fight for victory on Sunday, you can bet he will be taking that opportunity with both hands.
Fans, teams and drivers alike will be holding their breath that there are no problems with the tyres throughout practice, and that both compounds behave themselves this weekend, ensuring that any threat to boycott the race comes to nothing.
And on the 99% chance that all does indeed go to plan on the tyre front, you can guarantee one thing. The ‘Ring will entertain.
Known by many around the world as the home of the legendary Nordschleife, widely regarded as the most challenging racetrack of all time, the Nurburgring has been part of the Formula One calendar in one form or another for over 60 years.
Dubbed ‘the Green Hell’ by triple world champion Sir Jackie Stewart, the Nordschleife proved to be the ultimate test for man and machine in the F1’s formative years. Names such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Graham Hill all won at the legendary 14-mile circuit, whilst Stewart himself famously took the chequered flag by over four minutes in the torrential rain in 1968.
But success regularly came at the expense of safety. Onofre Marimon, Peter Collins and John Taylor were just three drivers claimed by the remorseless circuit, and by the mid-1970s Grand Prix racing there had become too dangerous. Niki Lauda’s terrible crash in 1976, which left the Austrian scarred for life, brought a halt to Formula One at the Nordschleife.
In its place came a new 2.8-mile circuit that opened for business in 1984. After two Grands Prix at the new Nurburgring in the mid-1980s, it would be another decade before Formula One would return, with the success of Michael Schumacher ensuring there would be a second German race on the calendar, along with the race at Hockenheim.
The new ‘Ring became a fixture on the schedule once more, running under the European – and briefly, Luxembourg – Grand Prix banners, and played host to some memorable races, not least Johnny Herbert’s remarkable 1999 win for Stewart. However, the modern circuit had gained a reputation for causing first lap accidents, and as a result, the layout was slightly altered by fan favourite Hermann Tilke in 2002 to leave us the 3.19-mile ‘Ring we have today.
The European Grand Prix continued to be held at the Nurburgring until 2007, when the circuit agreed to become host to the German Grand Prix on a biennial basis, alternating duties with its old rival at Hockenheim.
With that little history lesson over, here’s what the track looks like in the flesh, courtesy of Michael Schumacher’s 2006 Ferrari.
Location: Nurburg, Germany
First Race: 1951 (1984 in current iteration)
Track Length: 3.199 miles/5.148km
2011 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)*
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) – 1:29.468 (2004)
*2012 race held at Hockenheim
Past Winners (Nurburgring only)
2011: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
2009: Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault)
2007: Fernando Alonso (McLaren-Mercedes)*
2006: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)*
2005: Fernando Alonso (Renault)*
2004: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)*
2003: Ralf Schumacher (Williams-BMW)*
2002: Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari)*
2001: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)*
2000: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)*
1999: Johnny Herbert (Stewart-Ford)*
1998: Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes)**
1997: Jacques Villeneuve (Williams-Renault)**
1996: Jacques Villeneuve (Williams-Renault)*
1995: Michael Schumacher (Benetton-Renault)*
1985: Michele Alboreto (Ferrari)
1984: Alain Prost (McLaren-TAG)*
* Race run as European Grand Prix
** Race run as Luxembourg Grand Prix